How to Improve Your Medical Practice by Focusing on the Negative


Three examples of how your medical practice can embrace negative information to improve marketing and operations.

Historically, healthcare marketing has always embraced traditional branding aesthetics: accentuate the positive, never mention or attack the competition. The dynamics of both marketing and healthcare are changing, and some health systems and practices that are looking to distinguish themselves in crowded markets may want to consider more modern branding strategies for inspiration.

For instance, Domino's Pizza created one of the most attention-grabbing campaigns in recent memory when it disavowed its own pizza recipe, admitting it was subpar and asking the public to sample its improvements. On the surface, it seemed like brand suicide; but by embracing the negative, Domino's demonstrated that it values quality over complacency. 

Here are some suggestions on how your practice can embrace the negative to achieve positive results:1. Customer service questionnaires and the good news of bad news.  While major health systems have been utilizing customer service questionnaires for decades, not all small and medium-sized practices have implemented them. This is a shame, as these practices usually have more to gain from the prompt assessments of their patient base. 

The ability to get feedback in real time can facilitate prompt action before your patient base quietly migrates to a new practice.  And while the first recommendation is to implement this tool in the first place, the second is not to bury the bad results.  An infamous business school model is, “Bad news needs to travel fast.”

Experience is 90 percent perception and if the perception is that your practice isn’t appealing to patients, embrace that data and immediately begin working on corrections.  Most patients will forgive one bad experience.  They very rarely forgive two.

2. Call out your competition.  Healthcare is one of the few industries in which entities don't address the weakness in their competition directly.  It traces back to the notion that, although we’re competitors, we’re all in this for the same mission.  As the healthcare market becomes more crowded and more diversified in equal measure (the rise of retail medicine, for instance), health systems and private practices alike will need to clearly and quickly define their strengths to discerning patients. 

If your wait time for new patient appointments is shorter than the practice down the street, there is no shame in highlighting that.  Just look at how effective Esurance has been at marginalizing Geico’s famous “15 Minutes or Less” mantra with a new campaign that promises similar results in half the time.  Maybe it’s time to put out an ad showing your average wait time is only two weeks as opposed to the six of your competition. 

3. Web-based tools and your office.  One of the trickiest aspects of identifying where improvements are needed in a practice is getting sincere feedback on the practice's management team (including physicians).  Often, employees are reluctant to share their true thoughts regarding supervisor performance for fear of reprisals from management should their feedback become public knowledge.  Previously, the ability to get confidential feedback was limited, but with today’s tools it’s fairly easy.  For instance, SurveyMonkey can be used to great effect.  You simply construct the survey, send it to the e-mails of the intended employee pool, and the results come back anonymously.  The employees can then complete the survey from home, and feel comfortable giving more candid advice.  If management adjustments need to be made, they can be made before key staff member talent leaves your practice.

These are just three examples of how negative information can be embraced to produce positive outcomes, both inside and outside of your practice.  Too often, this valuable data is marginalized, or worse, ignored.  By accepting the negative, and proactively developing ways to discover it, you will be serving your practice, your employees, and, most importantly, your patients. 

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